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ITALIAN STYLE

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Mar 4, 2007

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

ITALIAN STYLE By Roy Nakano

One of the fonder automotive sights in Europe is seeing the wide spectrum of Italian cars on the road. There's a certain flair and style inherent in all of them that breaks up the monotony of boxes that otherwise flank the roads there.

The same is true of Italian cars that grace the roads in the States. Sadly, the number of Italian cars sold in the U.S. is few and far between. The sightings are so scarce that all of them can qualify as exotics (with commensurate prices, for the most part). One exception to the monetary rule is Maserati. While not exactly economy car-priced, its sport cars can be had for figures well below those of Ferrari and Lamborghini. The Maserati Coupe, for instance, can be yours for a tad less than $80,000. Even the luxurious Maserati Quattroporte is actually less expensive than a BMW 760Li, and quite a bit less than a Mercedes S600. With three-pointed stars and spinning blue propellers so common in this town, one may wonder why a larger segment of the affluent class hasn't opted for the more exclusive and exotic Maserati brand. One big reason is because Maseratis haven't been available with automatic transmissions. An F1-style sequential manual is about as close as one could get to an automatic in a Maserati.

Redefining The Maserati Demographics Things are about to change at Maserati, starting with the introduction of the Maserati Quattroporte Automatica. It's the first Maserati with a true automatic transmission. In this case, it's a six-speed ZF unit with a sequential manual mode for those who prefer to roll their own gears. The base Automatica is outwardly distinguished by horizontal chrome strips on the front grille, 11-spoke 18-inch alloy wheel rims, and rear seats with separate electrical controls and seat back adjustment.

With the Automatica Executive GT, the Quattroporte sports commensurate GT badging on the front pillars, a chrome mesh front grille, chrome side grilles, ball-polished nine-spoke 19-inch alloy wheel rims, a leather steering wheel with wood inserts, Alcantara roof lining, a rear seats 'comfort' package and rear passenger climate controls.

The Automatica Sport GT adds steering-wheel paddles, Sport GT badging on the front pillars, a sportier suspension set-up, seven-spoke 20-inch alloy wheel rims, cross-drilled discs, black chrome front grille and trident with red accents, a carbon-fiber accents in the interior, a sports steering wheel, and aluminum pedals. As with the DuoSelect (sequential manual) models, the Quattroporte Automaticas are equipped with Maserati's 4.244-liter, 400 horsepower DOHC, 32-valve V8 motor. The aspirated camshafts, with a continuous-phase high-pressure speed gear-change, have a characteristic profile which optimizes delivery even at low engine speeds. The accelerator is drive-by-wire, electronically controlled, with no mechanical linkages. While having the same maximum power, the V8 has different technical features and set-up depending on the version: The Quattroporte Automatica, with its distinct Maserati blue engine heads, emphasizes soft and fluid driving with a maximum torque of 460 Nm at 4250 rpm, 75 percent of which is already available at 2500 rpm. The Quattroporte DuoSelect sports red heads on the V8 and dry-plate clutch lubrication - a technical solution on a par with the most advanced racing engines.

The six-ratio transmission of the Quattroporte Automatica favours soft and fluid clutch engagement, but without sacrificing fast gear changes. Not forsaking its touring car spirit, the Quattroporte Automatica can also be driven manually by using the stick located on the central tunnel or by selecting the Sport mode - thus making the most of all engine speeds and taking driving to a higher level.

Balancing Act

Maserati prides itself on excellent weight balancing. On the Quattroporte, it's achieved by moving the engine back within the front axle, allows for maximum traction, pickup capacity during acceleration, and exceptionally stable and balanced behaviour of the vehicle.

In the Quattroporte DuoSelect, this feature has been further enhanced by the transaxle architecture, or the technical choice of positioning the gearbox behind and locked to the differential. Usually applied to high-performance sports models, the Quattroporte DuoSelect is the first and only limousine to adopt this effective technology.

The distribution is at 47/53 percent for the Quattroporte DuoSelect and a careful study of the positioning of the mechanical members also allows for an optimal weight distribution in the Quattroporte Automatica (49/51 percent).

A highly developed suspension architecture, in combination with the Skyhook system, reconciles the demands for excellent performance with an uncompromising comfort. The suspensions are deformable quadrilaterals with forged aluminum hub supports and arms. Thanks to Antidive and Antisquat geometries, the front end does not drop during braking or the rear end during acceleration. These features ensure maximum levels of shock absorption to guarantee safety and stability.

The 330-mm four-disc self-ventilating braking system, acted on by four-piston calipers, offers top-of-the-line performance, ensuring and maintaining high performance even under the most intense use.

A Lap of Luxury The Quattroporte Automatica combines the comfort and ease of a luxury saloon with the pleasure of a pure driving car. The interiors in Frau leather, the automatic transmission, the luxury woods, the refined mechanics and the unique Maserati design made it the winner of 25 'Best Car' awards from international magazines.

The vehicle comes standard with electrically adjustable 14-position front seats, the driver's seat having three memories. Superb attention has also been given to the rear passengers, thanks to comfortable electrically adjustable seats. The automatic twin-zone air conditioning, with control software, a new air flow distribution with nozzles, and standard laminated window panes, assures a high degree of thermal insulation, even when outside temperatures are high.

The fit and finish on this car is equal to the best in the industry. A careful examination of the passenger area reveals no cheap plastics or unfinished details. In the best made-in-Italy and 'tailor-made' tradition, the furnishings are Frau leather and woods of the finest quality. The customer can appoint the car to his or her own taste, selecting from among nine interior colors and five types of wood: Rosewood, Walnut, Mahogany, Black Piano and Tanganyika. The standard features are completed by a very good sounding Bose system developed specially for the Quattroporte.

Kicking It Up A Notch As if the Quattroporte isn't exclusive enough, Maserati offers the Alfieri Maserati Workshops customization program, which has been developed to allow each customer to build his or her own customized Maserati. In terms of chromatic choice, the customer can choose from 10 different colors for the exteriors as well as reproduce unique paints by samples. The interiors can be customized by matching together the preferred leather colors, types of wood, and yarn and carpet stitching.

The equipment on the Quattroporte can be further upgraded with a choice of contents, devised for daily drivers who wish to further improve their quality of life while traveling. The program includes, for example, a comfort package for the front and rear seats (heating, ventilation, massage and, for the front seats, automatic system for self-adjusting the seat stuffing to the movements of the body), the Rear Climate Package (rear climate and side blinds controls) plus other accessories designed to make the journey on board enjoyable (CD player, GSM telephone and Rear Seat Entertainment, including rear central screen, DVD player and TV tuner).

In order for Maserati to ensure an elegant and comfortable environment for its customers, the roof lining is provided completely in Alcantara, while refinement reaches maximum standards with the 'Luxury' outfitting, where the lining is in natural leather.

Want to kick it up even further? It's actually possible to satisfy other requirements ad hoc, such as signing the fender protector with your own name or your company logo. The car's technical, homologation, and quality requirements are not diminished in carrying out the outfitting requests.

A Driving Experience Our test car is the new Quattroporte Automatica Sport GT. Even driving through a parking lot, the sound coming from the motor is so seductive, so exotic, yet never too loud. Why can't lesser cars sound like this? Alas, they don't. And once you take the car out on the road, you're rewarded with a great driving experience - nimble through the twisties, yet smooth and fluid on the straight-aways. And with 400 horsepower on tap, coupled with the excellent six-speed manu-matic ZF transmission, this car can sail through traffic like it's standing still. Many moons ago, Italian cars had a reputation for being fragile. But that was then. This is now: Maserati has come a long way, and this car feels positively Germanic in its sense of substance and solidity. So there you have it. One of the best kept secrets is now out in the open. Italian cars can be affordable as well as formidable. In the case of the Quattroporte Automatica, the Maserati demographics have suddenly widened. Don't be surprised if the sales of this mark suddenly takes an upwardly mobile turn.

SIDEBAR COMMENT

The Quatroportte should be a niche car, but it isn't such a little niche anymore. Over six-figure, four-door, sedans, with a strong emphasis on sport should be an exceptionally limited field. Maserati is finding that this segment is getting just a bit crowded. Nevertheless, the Italians are offering a new twist on the now familiar machine. The new six-speed automatic makes this an easier drive for those who might not feel at home with the other options.

The ease of operation is Dr. Seuss like, downshift left, upshift right, drive like a demon all day, and even all night. Unlike lesser transmissions, the rev matching is as race like as it gets outside of a manual stick. The brains of the system will increase the rpms to effectively eliminate any harsh, erratic actions in shifting. For those who can't seem to make a smooth downshift to save their lives this is a godsend. Nothing's worse than observing a driver in a car of this magnitude whose less than stellar abilities at shifting a manual turn an outstanding engineering marvel into the equivalent of a horizontal pogo stick. The sight is heartbreaking. The Maserati ensures this scene won't haunt its owners.

Even in this particular car with the softest suspension available, the car is every inch a sports sedan. Along the Coast Highway we make an abrupt, evasive maneuver just shy of being a panic situation as a driver in the lane next to us drifts ever so close to our assigned car. I quickly jog the sedan to the left smoothly without raising the hairs on the back of our necks. The visual of the approaching car is the only indication of any problem. The precision balanced response to the situation turns this into a less than hair-raising event.

At any and all speeds I am hooked on this fast shifting six-speed. While the Q-port is no longer the new kid on the block, it does have a new lease on life with stiffening competition from the likes of Mercedes, Audi, and Bentley. The flexibility the driver has and interaction with the car is gold. This transmission is the choice of less adept champions, and it should keep this Maserati in the winner's circle, or at the very least the garages of the well-endowed. - John Grafman

SUMMARY JUDGMENT As exclusive as an English Bentley, priced like a German Audi A8 W12, but it's all Italian.

For more information on Maserati products, go to www.maserati.com. SPECIFICATIONS

Name of vehicle 2007 Maserati Quattroporte Automatica

Price: Base $103,700 Executive GT $115,900 Sport GT $112,200 (test vehicle)

Engine type: 4.244-liter DOHC, 4 valves/cylinder, V8

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 12/18

Horsepower: 400 @ 7,000 rpm

Torque: 326 pound-feet @ 4,250 rpm

Drive configuration: Front engine / rear-wheel drive

Transmission type: ZF 6-speed automatic with sequential shifting feature with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters (Sport GT model)

Suspension: Deformable quadrilaterals, with forged aluminum hub supports and arms; antidive and antisquat geometries. The Skyhook system, developed in collaboration with Mannesmann-Sachs, enables automatic control of the dampening: a series of sensors that register the movements of the wheels and car body instantaneously adapt the shock absorbers to the roadway. Depending on the type of steering, one can choose between two functions: Normal (soft setting to guarantee maximum comfort) and Sport (more rigid setting to 'feel' the road).

Wheels and tires: 11-spoke 18-inch alloy wheel rims; 18-inch high performance tires (base model) 9-spoke ball-polished 19-inch alloy wheel rims; 19-inch high performance tires (Executive GT) 7-spoke 20-inch alloy wheel rims; 20-inch high performance tires (Sport GT) Brakes: Brembo braking system with four self-ventilating discs (cross-drilled for the Sport GT); front 330 mm × 32 mm; rear 330 mm × 28 mm fixed four-piston callipers with differentiated diameter at the front, four-piston callipers at the rear; anti-lock braking system; ABS electronically controlled braking distributor; EBD MSP stability control (includes ABS, EBD and ASR)

Overall length: 198.9 inches Overall width: 74.6 inches Overall height: 56.6 inches Curb weight (lbs.): 4,375 pounds

0-62 mph: 5.6 seconds

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